Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who Are The Most Natinals Players?

Sometime this week, the Nationals will clinch the National League Eastern Division.  The pennant will be theirs.  And while there are some who consider it gauche since we've never worn a uniform, we'll all consider it ours too.  We've been there since the beginning, suffering through year after year of lousy play, lousy players, lousy managing, lousy broadcasting, etc.  So it's time to shovel dirt on all that.  Those Gnats jokes? Dead.  Buried.  Those "The Plan!" jokes?  Ok, they're not fully dead yet... I want to kick that horse a few more times just to make sure.  But "Natinals?"  Yeah, that's dead.  So in the spirit of embracing the dead, the "Most Natinal" project was born.  Let's celebrate those sub-mediocre years, remember the not-so-greats, and admire just how far this team has come since the time that Jim Bowden thought signing Vinny Castilla and forfeiting a pick would be a good idea.

We received almost 200 ballots... so thanks to everyone who took a few minutes.  And I'm happy to announce the first batch of the Most Natinals roster!


Matt Stairs 29 16%
Tony Batista 25 14%
Daryle Ward 41 22%
Wil Cordero 46 25%
Tony Blanco 35 19%
Other    9 5%

A close race, but in the end, it belongs to Wife Beatin' Wil Cordero .  Jim Bowden signed Wil Cordero -- the long-time Expo -- in December 2004 to steal time from Nick Johnson at first base.  And to be a leader.  Yeah, that's right, at least per Ladson.

On the field it was Ugh-Lee.  He injured his knee early in the season, thankfully giving more playing time to Nick Johnson.  When he came back, he was used primarily as a pinch-hitter.  All Cordero did was pop the ball up.  Sometimes it stayed on the infield.  Sometimes it went to the edge of the grass.  Occasionally it made it to the outfielder.  He finished the season with 2 RBI... which were both Sac Flies, when he miraculously had a runner on third for one of those weak popups.  At one point in the season, his batting average was higher than his on-base percentage (always a nifty trick!).

Wil Cordero: A wife-beating player hailed for his leadership, signed for a role that would partially block the development of one of the team's few good young players, who couldn't perform?  That's a True Natinal.  Wil Cordero is the Most Natinal First Baseman.

Others considered: Daryle Ward, ah, close your eyes, and you can still picture Frank writing his name in the outfield, or refusing to DH him during Interleague play.  Being used in ways that expose your weakness helps make a Natinal what he is.  What I'll most remember about him, though, is him huffing and puffing and snuffing around the bases in that series against the Yankees.  He was key to the big rally on the Saturday game, and his spring (lope? gallop? plod?) was reminiscent of one of those impromptu sprints a toddler does when they shift their center of gravity too far forward -- just with about an extra 240 pounds.  Other prominent write-ins: Carlos Baerga (Piston legs!); Larry Broadway (power prospect!); Dmitri Young (sigh); Paul LoDuca (it burns!); confidential to the person who wrote in Nick Johnson: BOOOOOOOOOO!


Bernie Castro 11 6%
D'Angelo Jimenez 32 17%
Anderson Hernandez 48 26%
Pete Orr 37 20%
Adam Kennedy 46 25%
Other 11 6%

Just two votes separated this race, and in the end, it goes to Anderson Hernandez, good ol' AHern!  His transactional history sums up the experience well.  The Nats got him as a PTBNL for a broken-down Luis Ayala in August 2008.  Thankfully they saved the receipt, because they returned him less than a year later for some random minor leaguer.

Hernandez had a sterling defensive rep.  He was going to be the guy that anchored a revitalized infield, helping that no-name pitching staff to a sub-6 ERA.  While the glove may have been excellent, the name the Mets fans had given him should've been the first warning sign: IPOR -- short for "In Play, Out(s) Recorded", which appeared on MLB Gameday approximately 75% of the time he came to the plate.

But what makes the IPOR experience was what he did in 2008.  He got a random 80 or so ABs.  Hit something like .330.  Combined with the sterling defense, everyone thought the Nats had a rising star... despite the, oh, 5,000 other professional ABs that said he couldn't drive the ball through a wet paper towel.  When the pumkin turned back from a carriage that next season, the fans turned, and IPOR was returned from whence he came.

Anderson Hernandez: A small-sample size illusion that made Nats fans think they had a hidden superstar, but in reality was a waiver-wire stiff.  That's a True Natinal.  Anderson Hernandez is the Most Natinal Second Baseman.

Others Considered: Ah, Adam Kennedy (File Photo).  As they tried to wash the IPOR stink off, the Nats turned to him because Orlando Hudson gave them the cold shoulder.  (Riggleman's comment on the signing: "He's not a spectacular player.")  He didn't hit.  He didn't really field.  And then he complained about not playing enough.  Or regulary.  Or something.  All I know about him is that you'd randomly see his name in the Mariners boxscore playing first or hitting cleanup, and I'd thought I had a stroke.  Other prominent write-ins: Carlos Baerga; Damien Jackson (too loathed to qualify); Jamie Carroll (chaste!); Jose Vidro; Junior Spivey (an oversight on the ballot); Ronnie Belliard (Bellylard...get it... it's cause he was fat!).  Confidential to the person who voted for Tony Blanco: Da Hell?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Boots on their Throats

I was looking up a little more info about how the Wild Card works this year.  Everyone's focused on how much a disadvantage the Wild Card teams are this year... but there's a flip side to that.  Because they're so disadvantaged, there's an EXTRA advantage to having the best record in the league.

First, as you know, there are two Wild Card teams.  The season ends on a Wednesday.  Those two teams play each other on a Friday.  If the season ended tonight, the Pirates would host the Braves. The winner of that game would take on the Nats.  Yes, even if the Braves won, they'd face the Nats in the first round.

Say Pittsburgh wins.  Game 1 of the NLDS would be the very next day IN Pittsburgh.  Because they came to the WC agreement so late, they didn't build a travel day into the schedule.  They've gone back to the 2-3 WC format they used early on, instead of the 2-2-1 of the last few years.  So the Nats would play 2 games on the road before coming home.

But, let's say Atlanta pulls it out behind Tim Hudson.  All of a sudden Atlanta's traveling back home with the Nats rested (having been off since Wednesday night) and able to throw Strasburg (I'm holding out hope!) or Z'mm'nn in Game 1.  The Braves, having already used their ace, would have to throw Tommy Hanson, or some other bum.

So the team with the best record gets to face a team whose ace will only pitch once in a 5-game series.  Whereas, if the Nats fell to second best in the NL, they'd host the third-best team, and aces would square off against aces -- both'd go twice.

That's a pretty big advantage for the number one seed.  And another reason why Mike Rizzo -- despite there not being any clear holes that need upgrading -- needs to make moves to strengthen anything he can.

Sure, we all are hoping on having a window over the next three seasons to win.  But that window's wide open.  We better jump while we have a chance.

If the Nats do hold on, the first playoff game would be Tuesday, October 9.  Games 4 and 5, if necessary, the next two days (as it appears they're not really bending for TV this year to unnecessarily lengthen these series).

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Whatever That Kid's Name Is

I'm old.  I don't have time for trivial details...

So we drafted a guy who's very likely to need Tommy John surgery, and we're supposed to hail this as some great pick with no real downside.  I get it.  If healthy, he's a great value.  If healthy, Nick Johnson's a Hall of Famer.  If healthy and ripped, I'm winning Mr. Universe too.

To get it out of the way: I'd have made the pick.  In the middle of the draft, it's as good a pick as any.  There's a metric tonne of upside.

But what's frustrating me about what I'm seeing is no mention of the potential downside.

It's exemplified by this tweet:

Really?  That's the worst case?   I mean, yeah, he could argue that he wasn't talking about quality of performance, just their ability to recover, but...

It's assuming that the only thing wrong with him is TJ.  That TJ is 100% effective (it's not.).  And that there aren't any other injuries set off by him trying to compensate for a UCL that's made of silly putty.

The pick (while right) is full of downside... full of opportunity costs.  Such as:

the 'costs' of missing out on others the Nats may have been able to draft there.
if he signs for above slot (as likely to do) the 'costs' of signing lesser players to compensate with other picks.  (magnified by the greater risk of getting zippo from him)

In the slotting system that exists, if he goes belly up (and there's a higher risk here than many other players) then it ruins the rest of the draft because it'll have limited their ability to pick the best players (due to $) with their other picks.  They're robbing from Peter to pay Paul... only the Peter they're robbing is some lame one like Pete LaCock.

Anyway... again, it was a good pick.  But there IS a pretty big downside.  By committing to him, the Nats have made this a Whatever That Kid's Name or bust kind of draft.

Hopefully in 10 years, with a new bionic elbow, we'll all laugh this off.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Everything and Nothing, All the Same

Ever read one of those terrible essays (or written one -- it's ok to admit it) that starts out "Webster's Dictionary defines "turpitude" as..."? Know what the sportswriter (especially hack blogger) version of that is?

If someone had told you that the Nats would be in first place at the end of April, despite no Mike Morse, despite an injured Ryan Zimmerman, despite a combined left-field performance that makes one yearn for Wily Mo Pena, you'd be delighted.

You know why that's terrible? Because nobody gives a rat's ass who's in first place at the end of April. What matters is who's in first at the end. This hot start? Great! Amazing! Wonderful! It's filled me with lots of joy, particularly at the end of all 72 wins (it was that many, wasn't it?) when I could load this bad boy up.

As I write this, the Buccos are up by 4 over Atlanta.  If that scores holds (PLEASE HOLD!), the Nats will finish the month .5 game up on everyone.  Huzzah.

You know how they got here.  Pitching pitching out of its mind.  Hitting hitting poorly enough to drive you out of yours.

There are exactly three hitters doing anything at all: Jayson Werth, Willie Ramos, and **gulp** Adam LaRoche.

Jayson Werth isn't really hitting for the power we were hoping, but he's shown a good, patient eye -- which is perhaps wasted hitting so low in the order.  It certainly seems like his best clutch play is a walk.  Just me, or does it seem like he's lost a step defensively?  He was very good before... now... just average.  I can think of a handful of balls I feel someone with younger legs may have gotten too.  (And I can't really think of any outstanding throws he's made)

I ripped Ramos to hell and back yesterday for his lousy defense during the H-Rod h-bombing.  Yes,  Rodriguez was wild.  And they were scored as wild pitches.  But better form/technique stops at least one of those wild pitches.  I've only partially paid attention to his framing/technique in other situations, so I'll have to look to see if that extends more... but it seems like he spent an awful lot of time back-handing balls, which is often the product of slow/lazy feet.

Ad-La is sure making me eat a lot of crow.  For now.  While this is certainly on the high side of the optimistic projections, it's within what he's capable of.  But if he cools down for a fortnight?  Yeesh.  I agree with the announcers in that he's a steady 1B, but the praise for him is crazy.  He makes the routine plays look routine, and they fall all over themselves to tell us how amazing he was.  I think it's the case that it's not so much that he's amazing, but that the Nats have always had such terrible defensive 1B, he looks all the more incredible.  Remember how refreshing Nyjer Morgan was when he took over for the unplayable Elijah Dukes? Or was it Milledge?  Therapy's pretty much blacked that out.

Worrisome?  Espinosa, Desmond... the bench, the outfielders not named Harper, etc...  Remember when Desmond was hot?  His ops is now a carbon copy of what it was last year, when people were hoping to get rid of him.  We were banking on Espi being able to slide over to fill in the spot, with Lombo or some generic 2B filling in.  Well, Espi's at a .569 OPS.  Just one month, sure... but it's not far from what he did in the second half.  That's about 3/4 of a season of suckitude.

One of them HAS to get better if the Nats are going to make noise. You saw how well the team did when Desmond was hitting.  There are just too many black holes in the lineup when neither of them are.  In the NL, you can pretty much afford to carry 2 sinkholes.  Three, and you've got issues.  See also: Phillies, Philadelphia.

On the other side of the ball, yeah, the pitching has regressed. But as Harper over at whatever the hell his blog is now called has pointed out, if they do get worse, it might not be by much.

What I think is important in this start is for it to not get lost about how fucking good Strasburg has been.  The K Street stuff is cute.  And it's nice to be able to talk about how well the staff as a whole is doing.  But don't let the attention on the group take away what you're seeing.

What he's doing is historic stuff.  His combination of power and command is something you rarely see.  Every homer fan has their homer favorite, but, dammit, Strasburg is the best pitcher in baseball.  He's not the horse that Verlander is, but there are many different routes to the same results.  (Besides, Verlander's allowed more than twice as many runs this year.)

What's impressed me is how he's combined the raw power with the pitch-to-contact edict that McCatty preaches.  He's got the perfect balance: toss that two-seamer in there at 95 or so, and rear back with the four-seamer when you really need to get the K.  If they put the two-seamer in play, they're not hitting it hard... he's inducing soft contact.  If they don't make contact and get behind, he's got that nasty curve.  Man, that curve... I don't think I'd quite call it a spike curveball.  It's not like a looser slider.  But it's not a big lollipop like Zito or Livan.  It rolls up there sharply, crisply, diving down hard.  It's unhittable.  MASN had an amazing replay a few weeks back showing the batter's view from behind the plate.  Unless they pick up the spin immediately (and with the 97 mph four-seamer, you better decide quick!) there's no way they can hit it; it just rolls off the table like a shotput.  If a hitter does adjust, he's dropping that shoulder, scooping the ball, and popping it up.  No chance.

Next start, watch for a few things: Watch how Ramos never has to really stab at the ball.  He sets up, and Strasburg hits the target.  EVERY TIME.  That's command.   Watch how he uses the curve, and really trace its movements.  Think about what the batter's seeing, and how little time he has to adjust.  When they do make contact, look at how soft it is.  The hits he allow aren't scorched -- certainly nothing like that double Harper hit the other day!  Even good pitchers give hits up in dribs and drabs.  The batters are helpless...  Even when he makes mistakes, they can't hit them hard because 1) he's so unpredictable 2) his stuff is so damn good.  At some point he'll give up a homer.  Maybe it'll be a monster.  If I'm betting, it's gonna be a long fly that lofts over the fence.

It also means that a bunch of his innings are easy -- 10 pitch innings, or no-stress 17-pitch ones.  So while much has been made of that 160 IP limit, I think that when push comes to shove, that's going to be a soft limit.  A great number of those innings (25%?) really don't count.  I imagine the Nats are counting pitches, counting stressful pitches, maybe even counting curves separately.

Where will they be next month?  Chances are, they won't be in first.  Tangotiger, perhaps the most rational of the statheads, has a quick theory on regression.  (If you're not familiar with regression, it's basically the way of saying that in the long run, we're all dead)  He says that if you take a team's record and add 35 wins and 35 losses, you've got a pretty good quality for the proxy of a team.

So if you do that, you get the Nats at 86 wins.

So, after all that start, we're pretty much where we thought we were 30 days ago: The Nats are a pretty good team with a solid chance of making the playoffs.  The start means a lot... yet it hasn't really told us anything.

But May will.  And June.  And July...